Anna Hazare may have surprised poll watchers by blessing Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee but is it an alliance of convenience between a regional satrap looking for a national presence and an anti-graft crusader who has lost most of his army and his top general?
Departing from his known stand of not canvassing for any political party, Hazare not only said India would change with Banerjee at the helm, but also professed to campaign for the Trinamool, prompting many a frown. Days after she vowed to make Trinamool an all India party - making evident her national ambitions - Banerjee's trusted lieutenant and party general secretary Mukul Roy created a flutter across the political spectrum by getting the Gandhian to vouch for the West Bengal chief minister's integrity and promise to canvass for her.
Addressing a joint press conference with Banerjee, Hazare professed his admiration for the Trinamool chief, the only politico to respond to his letter to political parties listing a 17-point agenda for the country.
In the same breath, Hazare also ruled out supporting his protege Arvind Kejriwal, who went against his wish to float the Aam Aadmi Party, went on to become the Delhi chief minister but later resigned and could be the party's prime ministerial nominee.
The Hazare-Mamata bonhomie has not only irked her political rivals but has also exasperated a section of rights activists and organisations.
Political analyst Anil Kumar Jana felt it was more of a marriage of convenience aimed at mutual benefit.
"Still a respected figure, Anna has reached out to Mamata apparently in an attempt to reclaim the limelight which Arvind Kejriwal has taken away. It is an attempt to reassert his political significance," Jana told IANS.
As for Banerjee, Jana said Anna's association provided her a platform to promote Trinamool nationally and fuel her ambition of playing the role of kingmaker after the general elections expected by May.
"She is quite popular, but to play a significant role which her party has been aspiring, she needs an agenda which is nationally relevant. Just opposing the BJP and Congress is not enough for her. Known as an anti-graft crusader, Anna's association provides her an agenda to be counted nationally," said Jana, observing that the association may yield Banerjee electoral benefits.
Political analyst Samir Das too felt Banerjee's association with Hazare could be beneficial.
"Banerjee's tie-up with Hazare sends a positive message, especially at a time when the issue of corruption is expected to play a catalytic role in the polls," said Das.
The Hazare-Banerjee association has attracted varied responses from her political rivals. While some of refused to accord it much significance, others have warned the Gandhian about the consequences of supporting the West Bengal chief minister.
"From being a social activist he now has entered the political arena, but people should not think that Anna Hazare is a magician and everybody will blindly vote for him. While she is aspiring to be the prime minister, Banerjee must know that only those who do not have self-belief seek other's help," state Congress president and union minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist too has reacted strongly. Former chief minister and politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asked: "Does Anna knowsp how the state of West Bengal is being run?" Party leader Mohammad Salim accused Banerjee of "going to the BJP through Anna Hazare".
Incidentally, Hazare briefly interacted with newly-appointed Delhi BJP president Harsh Vardhan at a book release function in Delhi on Wednesday, a day after his joint presser with Banerjee.
Joining the league of some rights and women activists and organisations who have written to Hazare expressing shock over his solidarity with Banerjee, BJP state president Rahul Sinha too shot off a letter urging the social activist to reconsider his decision.
"Annaji, the people of West Bengal have tremendous regards for you. But we believe the way Arvind Kejriwal defamed you, the same would be repeated if you stay with our chief minister and her party," Sinha said in the letter.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)